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The Iron Claw

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
THE IRON CLAW
Photograph: Devin Yalkin
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Spandex soap operas meet real-life tragedy in an all-star drama that hits like a clothesline

Anyone familiar with the Von Erich wrestling family won’t need reminding that The Iron Claw is not your average underdog sports story – a Rocky-with-lariats flick. The marketing may promise a sun-kissed wrestling romp set in the American South, but the reality is much more tragic – and more heartfelt.

Much of that is thanks to a beefed-up Zac Efron, captivating as Kevin Von Erich, the great hope of the Texan wrestling clan led by hard-driving dad Fritz (Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany). We meet them in 1979 and follow the brothers’ rise to fame in the sport.  

Jeremy Allen White and Harris Dickinson are magnetic, too, as Kevin’s loyal brothers Kerry and David, showing the insecurity beneath the bravado. The trio fuels The Iron Claw with fresh-faced humanity to go with all the Spandex-clad theatrics and piledrivers (choreographed expertly by wrestling veteran Chavo Guerrero Jr). That boyish vulnerability turns a minor-key drama into an out-and-out weepie.

Director Sean Durkin (The Nest) is interested in how wrestling blurs the line between theatre and reality. He shoots the ring like a theatre stage in austere black and white, smash-cutting from ‘kayfabe’ (the staged ‘reality’ of wrestling) to the real world, while capturing Fritz’s toxic pride as it slowly destroys his family from the sidelines.  

There’s fresh-faced humanity to go with the Spandex-clad theatrics

The physical reality of wrestling is effectively depicted, too. Unlike the improvised sound effects of real-life wrestling, here blows land with a dull crunch. 

The weighter blows are less visible, though. The Iron Claw feels less like a film about ‘the greatest wrestling family of all time’ (as the end card suggests) and more about their father’s psychological abuse through constant belittlement. No matter how much they put their bodies on the line, it’s never enough. The film expertly charts just how draining and detrimental all this minimising becomes over the years.

Like Durkin’s other films, he zeroes in on the psychology of abuse. Martha Marcy May Marlene does this in the context of a cult; The Nest examines a man ruined by the allure of capital. The Iron Claw continues this trend by intertwining masculine values and public image. Fritz is obsessed with an idealised, all-American image of strength, where everything else is frivolous. 

There’s so much going on in the story, a degree of streamlining is excusable – and an entire brother, Chris, is missing (somehow the full reality is even worse). But the handling of the drama is always sensitive, anchored by a perception-busting performance from Efron. Even the High School Musical phobic would have to admit that he’s a revelation here.  

In UK cinemas Feb 9

Written by
Kambole Campbell

Cast and crew

  • Director:Sean Durkin
  • Screenwriter:Sean Durkin
  • Cast:
    • Zac Efron
    • Holt McCallany
    • Harris Dickinson
    • Jeremy Allen White
    • Maura Tierney
    • Lily James
    • Stanley Simons
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